Kirkus Reviews QR Code


And Other Essays

by M.H. Abrams

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-393-05830-7
Publisher: Norton

A former professor and distinguished literary critic who will reach his 100th birthday this year offers a collection of essays and speeches dealing with the art of poetry and the nature of criticism.

A founding editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Abrams (Doing Things With Texts: Essays in Criticism and Critical Theory, 1989, etc.) shows he remains both in firm command of his craft and a sturdy defender of the traditional views of literature that the author-absent New Criticism threatened to sweep away. Here, for example, is a lengthy, cogent argument about Wordsworth’s meaning of the line, “A slumber did my spirit seal.” Was the poet writing another Dead Lucy poem? Or was the spirit entombed? Another piece deals with, and generally dismisses, the idea of the removal of the author’s biography and intent from literary criticism. Abrams argues for a criticism that recognizes a literature “composed by a human being, for human beings, and about human beings and matters of human concern.” The author emphasizes this theme throughout the collection. The title essay deals with the physical/physiological aspects of reading a poem aloud—the ways that poets move our tongues in our mouths to affect the effects and meanings of the words. Abrams also includes pieces about the evolving view of nature in our literature, a long piece about Kant and art that alludes to everyone from Plato to Poe and beyond, an essay about the journey in Western literature (from the Bible to Eliot), and a crisp tribute to critic William Hazlitt. Abrams recognizes that Hazlitt worked from the individual sentence forward—seeing where each sentence would lead him before composing the next.

A pleasant whiff of nostalgia for old libraries and older books, gently held and translated for us by a man who loves them.